ORANGE COUNTY: Financial Plan ‘Neglects Poor,’ Critics Say
After sharp criticism from community health, religious and business leaders at a budget hearing Wednesday, the Orange County Board of Supervisors "appeared ready" to bolster funds for health care programs for the poor, the Orange County Register reports. While the supervisors reaffirmed their plans to use the county's nearly $1 billion portion of the national tobacco settlement to pay down the county's debt and expand its prison system, they concluded that those projects could be done while simultaneously improving health care programs. Board Chair Charles Smith said that he was "relatively moved" by the testimony of 30 speakers, who blasted the county for "failing to restore programs that were cut or eliminated" after the 1994 bankruptcy. Monsignor Jaime Soto of the Catholic Diocese of Orange said the board was ignoring its "financial and moral debt" to the community's poor affected by the cuts in health care programs. Orange County Medical Association President Dr. Brennan Cassidy called on the county to stop shifting financial responsibility for health care of the poor onto private hospitals and clinics. The county, which does not run its own hospital, reimburses facilities through its Medical Services for the Indigent programs, which were reduced after the bankruptcy. Noting that leaders had promised to restore funding after the county was in better financial standing, Cassidy said, "Now is the time for the county to honor its commitment." Many have been critical of county CFO Gary Burton, who indicated that the county was not obligated to spend the tobacco settlement on health care programs because the tobacco lawsuit had "no explicit link to health." State Sen. Joe Dunn (D), a trial lawyer who played a major role in that litigation before his election, chastised Burton for the statements. He said, "That's dead wrong. That litigation was about ... recouping dollars for health and health care." Despite the criticism, at least one supervisor was unconvinced. Jim Silva "praised" Burton's plan for the settlement. Based on the concerns raised at the hearing, Burton will present a revised long term financial plan to the board on Nov. 9 (Reed, 10/21).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.